The cruise boarding process is not standardized, meaning that each line has its own set of procedures to ensure that everyone gets onboard as quickly as possible. If you have sailed with Royal Caribbean or Disney and are planning on boarding your first Carnival cruise, you'll find some differences, starting with the boarding pass.
Thankfully, you are able to complete most of the check-in online process similarly to how you do so when you're boarding a flight; however, there are some extra steps, as you are boarding a ship for an extended period of time versus a flight for a couple of hours!
When you finish the online check-in process for a Royal Caribbean cruise, you are able to save the SetSail pass to your mobile phone. Carnival Cruise Line, however, requests that you print your boarding pass ahead of time.
If you arrive at the terminal without it, your embarkation process will take longer than those who came prepared, and the last thing you want to happen is to be stuck in the terminal while everyone else is enjoying their first cocktail or exploring everything fun onboard.
To make sure your boarding process is not delayed, print your physical boarding pass prior to leaving your house or pre-cruise hotel
While printing boarding passes feels a little bit archaic, it is part of Carnival's embarkation procedure.
Upon speaking with a port agent, you will have the pass stamped, and a specific number will be written inside of it. This simply lets other agents know which individual checked your documentation. As you move throughout the terminal, other agents will glance at your pass to ensure it has been properly stamped.
It does not matter whether you print the pass in color or black and white, as all information can be clearly read either way.
Carnival's boarding pass includes information such as your ship name and sail date, embarkation city, arrival appointment time, boarding zone, final boarding time, stateroom number, VIFP loyalty number (if applicable), and muster station. It's a useful tool to have on hand!
If you're looking for an even faster way to board your ship, consider purchasing Faster to the Fun
Faster to the Fun is Carnival's priority pass that can be purchased prior to your cruise. In addition to priority check-in at the terminal, you will also receive early access to your cabin to drop off any carry-on bags that you brought with you, expedited luggage delivery, priority tender boarding, a dedicated line and phone number for faster service at Guest Services, priority Main Dining Room and specialty restaurant reservations, and priority disembarkation.
The cost varies based on the length of your cruise, as well as the specific ship:
- $69.95 for cruises that are 2 or 3 nights
- $99.95 for cruises that are 4 or 5 nights
- $139.95 for cruises that are 6, 7, or 8 nights
- $159.95 for 6, 7, or 8-night cruises onboard Excel Class ships (Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee)
- $189.96 for cruises that are 9+ nights
Carnival suites get priority
Even if you don't want to spend the extra money, there are other simple steps that you can take to ensure that you don't get delayed at the terminal. Most importantly, you should make sure that all of your online check-in has been completed ahead of time.
This means inputting your onboard expense information, selecting your arrival appointment time, assigning an emergency contact, printing your luggage tags, etc. Note that check-in begins 14 days before your cruise is scheduled to depart.
On the day of embarkation, make sure that you have all of your documentation on hand when you arrive at the terminal. You do not want to waste time digging through your carry-on bag for your boarding pass and identification documentation, both of which will have to be checked before your pass can be stamped.
You should keep everything important in your actual carry-on bag, rather than your larger pieces of luggage that you will leave with a porter, as you will not see those bags again until you are on the ship.
Read more: 15 ways to board your cruise ship faster
What does the physical check-in process entail?
When you arrive at the terminal, you will first drop your larger bags off with the porter; you will not see them again until later in the afternoon when they are delivered outside of your stateroom. This can take some time, so you shouldn't expect them to be outside your cabin as soon as you step foot on the ship!
Then, you'll have your documentation checked to ensure that you are who you say you are. Plus, you'll have to go through security. Carnival specifically has a K9 narcotics dog on-site to sniff all carry-on bags to check for illegal drugs, such as marijuana. While an extra part of the embarkation process compared to other mainstream cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, it does not take too long.
After you take those slightly more boring steps, you'll be able to take a fun pre-cruise photo with your family or simply head up to the gangway to board the ship! It is recommended that you visit your muster station to complete the safety drill as soon as possible, so you do not have to worry about it later on. Plus, it is easy to forget with all of the embarkation day excitement.
Carnival is not the only cruise line that requires guests to print out a boarding pass
When I went on my first MSC cruise, I was surprised to learn that they, too, require guests to have a physical boarding pass, rather than a pass saved to their mobile phone.
I was a little worried that since their app was not equipped to show the boarding pass, other functions would be unavailable, too. Thankfully, I was still able to check my onboard expense account and view the daily schedule from the convenience of my mobile phone. Carnival is the same; while you cannot save your boarding pass to it, the mobile app is extremely useful once you are on the ship!
Regardless of which cruise line you are sailing on, you will want to make sure that you fully understand what's required of you on embarkation day, as you do not want to show up unprepared and have your vacation delayed by even ten or fifteen minutes.